Chennai goes green with buildings

SENSITIVE PRACTICE: The NEG Micon building in Sholinganallur

The Hindu Property Plus, 4 Nov 2006Chennai's Green buildings enjoy substantial economic and environment advantages writes, A. SRIVATHSAN

Individual clients have attempted in varying degrees to construct environment-friendly buildings. It is the commercial and the corporate sector that are perceived to be behind in the green venture. But in Chennai, there is a perceptible change in approach and many corporate offices are taking to green buildings. Chennai now prides on having seven certified green office buildings, five more under the process of certification and many more are in the pipeline.

Grundfos Pumps was one of the early buildings to get gold rating for green construction. This was followed by the NEG Micon, World Bank in Taramani and ETL BPO Park on Old Mahabalipuram Road. Chennai Tech Park, ECCI Info Park and Olympia Tech Park have sought gold rating and await evaluation by the US Green Building Council. AMTI Tech Park, Urbane Industries, Ashok Leyland, RMZ Millennium II, L&T ECC and Rane Institute for Employee Development training centre are in different stages of implementing green building features.

Energy saving

Green buildings optimise natural resources, reduce waste, provide healthy indoor environment and look at long-term sustainability. These buildings have substantial economic and environment advantages over others. They save on energy and water and facilitate efficient construction waste management. In the case of Grundfos Pumps, the saving in energy is about 20 per cent and in the case of ETL BPO Park, it is estimated to be about 33 per cent. These numbers are significant and the extent of savings is realised when the percentages are converted into absolute numbers. Mr. Ranganath, CEO of Grundfos, is proud and happy that his company, which started with a maximum electrical load connection of 560kW, now consumes only about 220 to 240 kW a month. This has helped him to opt for a lower load connection and has reduced the electricity bill from Rs.5.5 lakhs a month to about Rs.3.5 lakhs.
Green buildings also save about 20 to 40 per cent of water and help reduce the building operation and maintenance costs.
Apart from this, they use eco-friendly materials that are low on volatile organic compounds or VOCs, which help reduce health hazards. The indoor air quality is monitored and healthy working environment prevails.

They also encourage the use of recycled materials. ETL BPO Park has provisions for battery charging stations to promote vehicles that use alternative fuel. It also claims to have zero storm water runoff and 100 per cent reuse of wastewater for landscaping.

Credit points

An aspiring building is evaluated under six categories before it is certified as a green building. The categories are human and environmental health, sustainable site development, water saving, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

There is a mandatory set of prerequisites a building must have and a checklist of features and specifications it may choose to achieve. Based on the number of features it achieves, credit points are allotted.

The final tally determines the rating of the building. Platinum is the highest amongst the ratings. Platinum, gold and silver ratings are benchmarks evolved by the US Green Building Council to measure the performance of the building.

This bench marking is called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED. There are separate ratings for homes and offices. In addition the buildings can be rated separately for construction or interior or together.

The whole process of green building certification costs range between Rs.12 lakhs and Rs.20 lakhs and it is a considerable investment for small developers. There is also a marginal rise in construction cost.

However, many prefer to go through the process because of its advantages. Ms.Deepa Sathiaram, the only US LEED certified consultant in Chennai, finds that many multinationals and corporate offices realise the advantages and prefer to be associated with eco-friendly policies. They increasingly seek green buildings to improve their brand value and image.

Ratings

The promoters prefer to go in for green labels because it is an attractive selling point. For the tenants, it means low operational cost, considerable saving in power consumption and better indoor environment. Ms. Deepa feels that the certification costs may come down and will have wider acceptance when the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) introduces the LEED-India green building rating system.

This may encourage many builders to seek green building ratings. There are also many clients who adopt many of these eco-friendly procedures and specifications but never worry about the certification or rating.

According to Ms. Deepa, the Indian practitioners have adopted the US LEED standards because the US codes are more comprehensive and widely prevalent.

The CII, which has been extensively advocating green buildings, has adopted the US green building codes and is now in the process of adopting the codes for India.

Mr.M. Anand, LEED counsellor, CII, told The Hindu that Indian LEED standards had been recently launched and would come into effect from January 2007.

Balaji, a Chennai-based architect, thinks that the principles enunciated in the green buildings are sound and laudable, but the recommendations reflect a gap.

He finds that the green building codes are rooted in US construction methods and are oriented towards factory-made building materials.

On the other hand, he observes, the Indian construction industry uses more of natural materials. He is quick to add that this need not be construed as a criticism but a statement about lack of awareness and participation by the Indian material-manufacturing sector.

A few architects find the large-scale use of glass in green buildings unfortunate and think it could be avoided.
Mr. Anand feels that when LEED India building code takes effect it will certainly contextualise the standards to the Indian conditions.

He also feels that one cannot address issues such as extensive use of glass independent of other building design considerations.

To him, it is more important to achieve an overall balance between aesthetics, energy conservation and environmental protection in the building design. Ms.Deepa's remark sums up it all. She thinks that the building sector in the US is a strictly regulated sector with a higher degree of compliance and environment standards.

To her green building practice is a supplement than a substitute for sound building practices and codes.